How Often Does a Banknote Change Hands?


Ever produced a particularly tatty five pound note at the till, and wondered just how many hands it’s passed through before making its way into your wallet or purse? So did we — and now we have the answer.

We’ve discovered the number of people who get their hands on a British banknote during its time in circulation. For the more squeamish, it’s probably best not to consider how many germs may also have found their way onto your money; although as more payments are made online and with credit and debit cards, it’s probably less scary now when you think about it.

Recent figures from the British Retail Consortium show that we are handing over less banknotes than ever during a single transaction, with the average value of each transaction down to £9.47. With fewer cash transactions taking place, your notes may start coming to you in better shape, but the results we’ve uncovered about the lifespan of the average banknote may still surprise you.

With the current crop of banknotes approaching the end of their life cycle, we’ve been able to estimate how many people have had their hands on your banknotes throughout their current lifespan…

The Result


Lifespan: 23 months
# Circulation: 305,000,000



The note with the lowest lifespan; understandably so, since this is the one you’re most likely to use when paying for your morning coffee, the Sunday papers or your train ticket to work. At present a fiver lasts just under two years before it is removed from circulation; the new polymer note is expected to last almost five years, leading to even more than the 258 exchanges taking place at present.


Lifespan: 36 months
# Circulation: 723,000,000



With almost 600 exchanges in its current form, the £10 note is the one you’d most likely hand over to pay for your loaf of bread, milk, eggs; the ‘top-up’ to your weekly shop. Withdrawn from circulation every three years in paper form, the Bank of England estimates that one of the polymer blends will last seven and a half years.


Lifespan: 113 months
# Circulation: 1,758,000,000



At present there are almost two billion twenty-pound notes in UK circulation, and with more than two thousand sets of fingerprints on a single note expected during its lifespan, you can only imagine the number of rounds it’s paid for at the bar!


Lifespan: 492 months
# Circulation: 206,000,000



The £50 note has by far the longest lifespan and lowest circulation. You can go a long time without seeing a single £50 note, as it’s the least-used banknote in retail. Their lifespan has been estimated at 41 years before they become unfit for circulation, whereas a polymer £50 note would last over a century using the Band of England estimates!

The Result

Results were achieved by finding out the velocity of money; the total money in the UK’s supply (M), multiplied by how fast that moves around the economy (the velocity, V), which equates to the price level (P), multiplied by the total value of goods and services in the economy (Q).


Breaking down this amount by payment method (and so excluding any non-cash transactions) and by each denomination, leaves us with the number of each type of UK banknote making its way around the UK.

Using this data, we were able to determine the number of times one of each British banknote would change hands during its lifespan, and from this, estimate which pair of hands is yours in the sequence, depending on how long it’s been out there.

[Banknotes Breakdown]

DenominationNotes in Circulation (2013)Value of CirculationLifespan (months)Polymer (months)

The more durable polymer banknotes are expected to last much longer than their paper equivalent once introduced, likely to be in 2016. It’s also interesting to note the far more common usage of the £10 and £20 notes, and how long they typically last before needing to be replaced.

[Velocity of Money]

DenominationExchanges Per YearLifespan Exchanges

Knowing how long a typical banknote lasts, we’re able to assess the percentage of typical purchases made with each note, and as a result weigh it correctly in with the mix to determine which denomination of notes is used most often.

By switching from a cotton/paper blend of banknote to ones made of polymer, the Bank of England intends for their currency to stay crisp and clean for longer, whilst also reducing the risk of damage and extending their lifespan. The biggest test so far will come with the introduction of the Winston Churchill (£10) and Jane Austen (£5) notes, to be introduced over the next two years. Although polymer notes are less eco-friendly to produce than paper ones, the durability of polymer means that production will be reduced.



The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. The information in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial or any other advice. The information in this article is general in nature and is not specific to you the user or anyone else.